Planter box build: day 1

This past weekend I helped my friend Eric build a planter box for the bamboo I gave him earlier this summer. Although this is a pretty large plant, it kept blowing over, and it really needs more room than its pot can provide.

The nice thing about letting them have the potted bamboo for a month or so before permanently planting it is that they could move it around and figure out the best place for it. They already knew they wanted it positioned to provide late afternoon shade for their deck, but exactly where wasn't certain. As it turns out, the first place we put the pot was decided to be the best place for it, so that's where we'll build.


Tiny Whitey gets a name and a home

If you weren't reading my blog in April, you may not know that I have a partially-adopted stray cat (Super Whitey) living in my garage, and that she had two kittens in April. They also live in my garage. I sure do wish I could use my garage for garagey stuff, like parking cars. Today we took a significant step toward that goal, as one of the kittens found a home at 4 1/2 months old.

As is customary in our house, stray cats only get descriptive names until they are adopted. Since Tiny Whitey went to her new home, she's now called "Luna".


Big and not so beautiful

I'm going way back into the garden photo archives for today's post, which is something I don't normally do except when I want to show how things have changed in my yard, or how some plant did in previous years. Today it's all in the past though, and it's not going to be pretty. Did you read yesterday's post about the insect photos from last summer? Did you get to the photo of the ants on the big dead caterpillar? Did you find it to be creepy? If so, was it the ants that bothered you, or the death aspect? Or maybe the giant caterpillar? If it was the caterpillar that you didn't like, then you're really not going to enjoy today's post.

I'm writing today about two large insects that I found in early fall in 2004. First up is this huge caterpillar, the largest I've ever seen.


Insects from last summer

As mentioned yesterday, I found a few interesting photos of insects and spiders from last summer, and I want to share them with you now. I'll put the "cutest" ones first, saving the "creepiest" for later in the post.

It pays to keep a camera close by when in the garden, or even on the deck, as this little guy was on the table. I've never noticed this insect anywhere in my garden before (or since), so it was right place, right time for this one.


Just Bamboo Photos

So I was looking through my old garden photos, trying to think of a topic for today's post. There are a few cool insect images from last summer that I haven't shared with you yet, so I started getting those together. Then I realized that I've been doing a lot of insect posts lately. I have to remember that this is a gardening blog, not "let's look at another bug", and even though insects are an important part of a garden, they're not the most important part.

The most important part of any garden is bamboo.

Well, plants. But today it's bamboo specifically.


Time for some butterflies

Besides being hummingbird season, this time of year is also the best for butterflies in my yard. The butterfly bushes earn their keep and attract all sorts of the beauties. I'd like to take a look at some of them right now.

Since the types of butterflies that I see changes almost every day, with some species only stopping by very rarely, the images here don't represent the only types of butterflies that I see -- they're just what I've seen recently.


Hummingbirds at rest

Late summer is hummingbird season in my garden. There's constant traffic around the feeders, flowering vines, and other hummer-friendly flowers. They're seemingly always moving around, chasing each other away from favorite feeding sites, the air filled with their chirping and twittering.

As I walk around the garden, tiny birds buzzing over my head, it seems to me that hummingbirds don't know the meaning of the word "rest". That's not true though. Watch long enough, or look hard enough, and you'll see that they do actually stop for breaks when they can.



One of my favorite genus of plants is Agastache, or "hyssop". I love their spicy, minty foliage, their fruity colors, the way they attract bees and hummingbirds. I love that they're quite easy to grow, that they reseed, and that deer, rabbits, and every other mammal around here won't eat them.

They're just a great plant to have in the garden, and I have quite a few of them. Unfortunately, this hasn't been a great year for the Agastaches in my yard.


Banana update

At the end of June I got a few banana plants on sale. Let's take a look at how they're doing today, just under 2 months later. (It might help if you refer back to the original image.) First up is what was the smallest of the three plants, which is now the largest, depending on how you measure.

This plant is producing huge, beautiful leaves now. These leaves are over 3' long and about 1' wide.


Critter Catchup

Besides the mantis, grasshopper, and caterpillars I talked about yesterday, I've seen some pretty interesting insects over the last week. Some you may find to be creepy, some may be cute, but I hope you give them all at least a quick look.

First up is the last one I saw. This was on my mailbox yesterday morning, and it's colors really got my attention. I believe it's a type of assassin bug (which I've posted about before) but I've not seen this type before.


A final type of damage

The last two days I've covered storm damage to some of my plants, heat damage to others, and now continuing the theme that I inadvertently started, another type of damage. Any guesses what it is? The storm and heat damage is pretty climate-specific, but this one all gardeners can relate to, regardless of climate.

Yep, it's insect damage. In this case, on one of my potted bamboos. Normally I wouldn't care about a little insect snacking, but this is a plant that I walk by every time I go into the yard, and I want it looking its best.


Damage of a Different Type

Yesterday I posted about storm damage to a castor bean plant and some vines. Today it's more damage, but not from a storm. Today's damage is brought to you by a couple of weeks of extreme heat.

First up is this bamboo. It's a Fargesia dracocephala 'Rufa' (also referred to as Fargesia rufa) that gets a fair amount of sunlight. By "fair amount" I mean "probably too much".



In my post on Monday I mentioned that we got some rain last Friday night, which has been the only decent rainfall in my garden for weeks and weeks. Although I appreciated the much-needed moisture, there's often a downside to these heavy summer downpours.

That downside is damage. Damage to plants from high winds, or buckets of water falling, or hail, or all of them combined. This particular storm's damage seems to be from winds only, and there was only one major casualty: one of my castor beans.



I was watering one of my potted bamboos yesterday, and since the weather has been much nicer these last few days (not as hot, humidity gone, nice breeze) I was just standing there looking around for a few minutes. One thing I noticed was a small oak sapling that I've been meaning to remove -- well, not so small anymore as it's about 8 feet tall now.

Normally I'd spend about 15 seconds looking at this plant, but this time there was something interesting about it: fuzzy brown balls on many of the leaves.


Another bed out of hand

If you have a garden, a yard and/or lawn, or just some potted flowers on your deck or porch, this is about the time of year that you start getting sort of burned out. Maybe this just happens in areas that have hot, humid summers (like St. Louis), but you reach a point where you don't really want to go outside anymore, and you really don't care about the garden.

(I'm saying "you" because although I'm talking about myself specifically right now, I've talked about this with a couple of my neighbors and they feel the same way right now -- so I'll stick with "you". )

It's not that you've given up, but you just need a break. That's a little bit how I've been feeling lately, probably due to the heatwave that we've had. During this time I see a weed and I look the other way -- I'm just not in the mood to do anything about it. This attitude eventually catches up with me, and I pay for it with ugly, overgrown beds.


Monday Miscellany

It's time for another "catch up" post, where I combine all of the mini topics of the last week or so -- the things that don't deserve an entire post for themselves. I'll start with weather.

As it has been with many parts of the country, lately it's been extremely hot and dry. By "hot" I mean over 95ºF every day. By "dry" I mean very little rain. The air itself (as is typical in St. Louis) is not dry -- it's quite humid, so the combination of heat and humidity means small, strong thunderstorm cells pop up almost every afternoon and move through the area.


Tiny, tiny, tiny ants

The other morning there was some sort of bone on my driveway, apparently garbage-picked from my neighbor's trashcan and left by raccoons. I thought it was strange that there was still some of the Shake 'n bake-looking coating on it -- the raccoons would have eaten all of that, wouldn't they?

Well, upon closer inspection that wasn't a tasty breaded coating on the bone -- it was a covering of tiny ants!



Each morning as I go out onto the deck and start down the stairs, I walk into what seems like a wall of sweetly perfumed air, thanks to a single plant. Toward the  bottom of the stairs is my smallish jasmine plant.

I bought it in February a few years ago, when visiting a nearby nursery that keeps greenhouses open all winter long (mainly to sell houseplants). I smelled a jasmine that was in flower and had to have it.


Another vine

One vine that I forgot to mention in yesterday's post is in some ways the most important one I grow. It's not the most beautiful, it doesn't take the heat too well, doesn't produce an abundance of flowers, but it delivers in another way.

If you haven't already guessed, it's melon. Cantaloupe to be specific. The variety called 'Ambrosia' to be very specific.



Recently I removed some cypress vines from my coneflowers, as they were getting out of hand. I've mentioned before that I love growing flowering vines, and let them climb just about every structure I can. Today I thought I'd show you more of them.

All of the vines are really starting to go crazy now. They seem so well-behaved for most of the summer, almost "slow". Deceptively slow, to the point of making you plant more vines than you'll need to make sure they "fill in". I always forget that a single cypress vine will produce dozens (hundreds?) of separate "branch" vines, so I end up letting three or four plants grow, and pay for it with a huge tangle later in the summer.


Woodpile cleanup part 2

About a month ago I started cleaning up the area around my woodpile. Today I'm going to tackle more of it. As you can see it's a weedy mess:

The first thing I'll do is carefully survey the area looking for "trouble". In this case I'm mainly concerned about poison ivy, but I'm also looking for wasp nests or anything else that could make the morning more uncomfortable.


Some fertilizer, some bamboo

I may have mentioned it before, but I use organic fertilizers on all of my in-ground plantings: vegetables, perennials, bamboo -- everything. For my potted plants though, I use synthetic fertilizers.

Typically I use a water-soluble blue powdered fertilizer -- Ok, it's "Miracle-Gro".


This little guy has to go

The smallest bamboo I have is also the most out of control bamboo I have. It's Pleioblastus distichus, and it probably won't get more than a foot tall for me at most.

It's got great little palm-like leaves, and it spreads quite quickly. I'm going to dig it up today.


Sunday morning catching up

Every once in a while I collect all of the photos and snippets that never warranted a full post and combine them into one hodgepodge post. Here's the latest! I'll start with this photo of something that most bamboo growers hope never to see:

It's a bamboo "flower" on my Phylostachys glauca 'Yunzhu'. Bamboo very rarely flowers -- it can take 20 - 100 years or more for a species to flower -- but often when it does the plant dies after setting seed. Not always, but often.



I've been gardening for a few years, so I'm used to the idea of animals eating plants. Deer, rabbits, woodchucks -- they'll all eat plants that just don't seem too palatable (I still don't know how deer eat thorny rose stems!)

Now I've got a new one to add to the list: raccoons eating my black stem taro.


Morning webs of dew

The morning of the catfight and the butterfly bush pruning it was quite dewey. Very wet. That heavy dew made these interesting spider webs in one of my catmints (nepeta) really stand out.

I love wet spider webs, and as much as was going on this morning I couldn't pass up this opportunity to get a closer look.


Butterfly Bush Beautification

I've got several butterfly bushes in my garden. I have more this year than I did last year. I didn't buy any new ones this year -- they were volunteer seedlings. This can be a problem.

Yes, they're nice plants with beautiful, sweet-smelling blooms, but they produce seed. Lots of seed. They grow almost anywhere, especially in the cracks of my flagstone patio. I do not need shrubs growing in the middle of my patio.


Garden cats showdown

These are the two cats that frequent my garden. On the left is Whitey, and Toe White is on the right. Whitey shows up pretty much every day, but Toe White is not around too often lately. These guys are the reason that Super Whitey has spent the last 6 weeks in my garage -- I don't want more kittens!

They do not like each other, and it appears to be time for a showdown.


Enjoying the blooms

During the heat of the summer -- the next couple of days are forecast to be 99 F -- many of the blooms in my garden look a little sad. Past their prime. The purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Cleome -- although they're still around, they're fading a bit. The high heat takes just a little more out of them too.

Not these though. This is the Mexican petunia I got for free a month or so ago, and it just keeps going strong.


Taming the vines

I may have mentioned before that I love growing flowering vines. I've got vines growing up and over my pergolas, trellises, my deck railing -- almost any vertical structure I can. Today I'm going to talk about the cypress vines though, and about the trait they share with almost every flowering vine.

That trait is their tendency to take over and get out of hand. The cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) has really nice, feathery foliage, and although it's a slow starter it is coming on strong now and looking great, especially on this trellis (a tripod made from electrical conduit).



I like caterpillars for the most part. I usually won't disturb them when I find them in my yard, and I'll even let them snack on my vegetable garden. There are two types of caterpillar that I do not like though. The first is really huge caterpillars -- I'm talking 5-6" monsters. The second is big "swarms" of them.

Guess which one I found in the garden today? Ick.


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